In the sixth and final session, policy makers and parliamentarians from local and international levels proposed steps that could be taken to effectively combat transplant abuse and prevent forced organ harvesting from living persons in China.
Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, Mitty Professor of Bioethics, Director NYU Grossman School of Medicine, USA
Professor Caplan, renowned professor of medical ethics and an expert in the ethics of transplant medicine, is currently head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. He was former chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and the Sidney D. Caplan Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
Although many would like to fully include Chinese professionals in the international medical and scientific communities, Professor Caplan said, “there continue to be serious ethical problems with transplantation in China that must be addressed before that can happen.”
He said there “remains insufficient transparency and verification of organ procurement practices” despite “extraordinary rates of growth in hospital based organ procurement… over the past 25 years” in China. The fact that Chinese authorities consider transplant data a state secret is “simply unacceptable.”
Professor Caplan explained that China’s voluntary organ donation numbers seem “too good to be true.” The problem arises, he said, when China categorizes people as prisoners just “because of their ethnicity, their race, their tribal customs, their religious or spiritual practices.” Prisoners are then reclassified as voluntary donors who have supposedly given free and voluntary consent. This is “morally unacceptable,” he stated, adding, “Voluntary consent is almost impossible to obtain, for post mortem donation in a prison context, too coercive, too exploitative.”
“We’re in a situation where it is not time to give up on pressing for further reform and further protection of those involved in organ donation, organ procurement in China,” Professor Caplan concluded, and “We can’t yet bring Chinese transplant and Chinese medicine and science into the world community until those reforms occur.”
Jaime César Naranjo Ortiz, Congressman, Member of Parliament, Chile
Mr. Naranjo is a member of the Chilean Parliament, the former vice president of the Chamber of Deputies, and former vice president of the Senate. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the National Human Rights Prize; the “Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur” from the President of France and the “Light and Memory” award from the Jewish community.
Mr. Naranjo opened his remarks with the simple, firm assertion that “Consent is the ethical cornerstone of any medical intervention.” In every country, the process for obtaining and recording this consent must meet international ethical standards and safeguard against abuse.
Calling organ trafficking a violation of human dignity and the right to life, Mr. Naranjo suggested that there must be national and international law to “criminalize and punish the illicit removal of organs from living or deceased donors.”
In the case of China, Mr. Naranjo cited reports that the national transplant volume far exceeds the number of transplants officially reported by the state and forced organ removal “appears to be directed at members of ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities who are detained… without any explanation of the reasons for their arrest or any warrant for their arrest.”
Despite the Chinese regime’s promises to stop harvesting prisoner organs, Mr. Naranjo explained that transplant experts believe that the crimes continue to this day, and he noted that “all six inspections of hospitals in China in 2015 by international agencies were pre-scheduled, and none of the authorized visits took place at an active transplant facility.”
Mr. Naranjo proposed six solutions: 1) Investigation in China by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; 2) Monitoring by the WHO for compliance to the guiding ethical principles for transplant medicine; 3) Subscription to the Convention against Organ Trafficking of the Council of Europe, the first binding international instrument dedicated exclusively to the fight against organ trafficking, by all UN nations; 4) criminalizing of organ removal; 5) “International cooperation…for the prosecution of the crimes of organ removal and trafficking in terms of investigation, extradition, confiscation and seizure;” and 6) resolutions in all nations to condemn these transplant violations, “particularly in China.”
Mr. Naranjo concluded by encouraging the adoption of the Universal Declaration for Preventing and Combating Forced Organ Harvesting and stating “I believe that the international community cannot remain indifferent to what we have been witnessing in recent years…I believe that the rights of people, the fundamental human rights are precisely about respecting their dignity. We cannot remain silent; we cannot be indifferent to what is happening in the international field, and particularly in China in relation to illegal organ trafficking. That is why we must act together.”
Elisabetta Zamparutti, Lawyer, Member of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Council of Europe, Former Member Italian Parliament, Italy
Additionally, Ms. Zamparutti is treasurer of “Hands Off Cain,” an NGO for abolition of the death penalty worldwide, and board member of “Prison Insider,” an NGO for worldwide information on prison conditions. She is considered an expert in monitoring prison conditions and treatment of detainees.
“The word ‘torture,’ Ms. Zamparutti explained, “comes from the Latin tortus, which means “wrong.” In China, there is no rule of law, there is the ‘rule of wrong,’ of torture.” While torture is widespread in China, “forced organ harvesting is something unacceptable, violently unimaginable,” where people have their vital organs removed against their will while being detained “for religious reasons, for their conscience, for their way of being, for their way of thinking.”
Industrial, systematic in scale, and used for profit, forced organ harvesting in China is performed by doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses. “People who should have the welfare of human beings at heart…instead become part of this infernal machine, this inhuman machine.” She said this reality “should really make us reflect on the one hand, but should also shame us as human beings.”
Stressing the importance of interventions such as those done by the current and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Ms. Zamparutti said that the China Tribunal’s determination that forced organ harvesting is a crime against humanity “is really the most appropriate definition for this practice that is so widespread and so unacceptable.”
In China, the targeted prisoners are forced to undergo blood tests and exams of their organs, the results of which are “entered into a database to facilitate the placement of removed organs.” She continued by saying that “the families of prisoners who have had their organs removed do not even have the opportunity, do not even have the right, to have back the bodies of their loved ones.”
“Now this is a truly hellish scenario that must lead us to mobilize as organizations committed to the protection of human rights, of individuals, and also as institutions. I think that there should be an appeal to everyone, to citizens but also to supranational bodies.” The United Nations, the World Health Organization, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament can end cooperation with China and its medical system, Ms. Zamparutti argued. “In the face of this shame of humanity, we must also ask ourselves what we can do to change the situation.”
An advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, Ms. Zamparutti noted that there have been successes in the international battle against the death penalty but that in China “these practices of hidden death penalties, such as organ harvesting on prisoners, continue.” The solutions must include investigation into this crime against humanity and a system to monitor the Chinese regime by independent international observers.
Ms. Zamparutti shared that she “was shocked to hear and read reports of how explantation also occurs on detainees who are still alive…detainees associated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement…All of this needs to be known, but I believe in the end, that what needs to be leveraged are the very principles that Falun Gong practices. I am referring to Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. In facing this battle, we need to embody these principles, truth, compassion, and tolerance, and we need to be strong in them.”
She concluded, “So we have to change China, we can change it, we can do it if first of all we practice what the Chinese regime wants to erase, truth, compassion and tolerance.”
Krzysztof Łoziński, Journalist, Poland
Mr. Łoziński, Polish political and human rights activist, was a leader in the Solidarity movement in Poland for which he spent 15 years in prison. He is a noted journalist, chief editor, photographer, author, and alpinist.
Mr. Łoziński asserted from the start that indifference was at the heart of why there is a “lack of reaction from a large number of people in the West, most of all from politicians, businessmen, celebrities, researchers and academia, but also from everyday people. There is a clear lack of action against the atrocities of the Chinese regime.”
Given accurate information, many people would “get involved in the defence of human rights and would react to such crimes” but, Mr. Łoziński pointed out that the “knowledge Westerners have about the Chinese can be very limited and even false,” and the history of China is simply not taught. To address this problem, we should start with educating the journalists “who are responsible for passing on knowledge to people… If they are knowledgeable on a subject, then they present factual information. If they do not know, then they should not present any news based on false knowledge.”
Another issue, according to Mr. Łoziński, is that those who are raised in free democratic countries “do not understand the true nature of a dictatorship…They do not understand that the biggest danger to everyone is the fact that a dictator can do anything and everything they want. That there are no boundaries for them, with nothing to restrain them.”
Mr. Łoziński asked why “such a horrible thing as organ harvesting [is] taking place, where most victims are people from the Falun Gong community, ordinary citizens not involved in politics, who are simply being rounded-up and murdered because someone found that they could use their kidney or their heart to be sold.” His answer was that dictators consider people as tools at their disposal. “There are no civil rights and no human rights. Humans are a part of the masses. Communist systems talk about masses, not about people. That is why people can be subjected to such treatment. Here we should remind ourselves of Stalin’s famous quote ‘people are numerous in our country, so what if they die, we have a lot of people.’ For dictatorships, people are just a resource.”
Standard reactions “in the face of such atrocities” include ignoring it entirely as having nothing to do with oneself, running away from the country or “to take the stance to fight. The stance to fight is difficult, it requires sacrifices…But who’s sacrifice was it? Was it those who ran away into their private lives? No, it was the disobedient, those who took a stance…Those who sacrificed and risked their lives. Of course, it is very difficult to take such a stance. Courage of convictions has its price even in our private lives – it can manifest in many ways.”
In closing, Mr. Łoziński quoted a saying of Władysław Bartoszewski, a famous Polish historian, journalist and Auschwitz survivor, who partook in the Warsaw uprising. “He said: ‘It paid to be moral.’ In this case, I would say it pays to be resistant.”
Thomas Rohden, Chair Danish China-Critical Society, Human Rights Activist, Denmark
Mr. Rohden, a political science student at the University of Copenhagen, is known for his humanitarian and advocacy work in supporting Hong Kong Democratic dissidents, and combatting human rights violations by China.
Currently, he is running for council in the greater area of Copenhagen, and finds it hypocritical that the area has a friendship agreement in place with China. As a region that promotes UN Development goals and tries to better the world, he stated that they should not be “pillow talking” with China “because the Chinese regime is not doing this world better. It’s doing evil things to this world.”
Mr. Rohden asserted that his first move if elected, will be to end the friendship agreement with China “because as a region that believes in human rights…that believes in equality for human beings, we can’t be friends with a country where they are making a genocide against the Uyghurs, cracking down on the Hong Kongers and stealing organs from the Falun Gong.”
He also offered some optimism, stating that he can feel new political beliefs arising in his generation. “We don’t just want to sell our products to China. If that means we can’t tell the truth about what China is doing. And that means we are selling out our own soul.”
Mr. Rohden believes that the world and “especially European countries who have been falling behind will step up and say to the Chinese regime that we cannot accept the way you are behaving in this world. We cannot accept the way you are destroying the global society, and we cannot accept the way that you are treating your own people.”
Praising the importance of the World Summit, Mr. Rohden said that it is “doing what the Chinese regime is fearing the most – is telling the truth. And the truth is a very, very, very powerful thing. Because the truth is often what is taking regimes and pulling them down from their all might.”
He encouraged everyone to continue to stand up to the CCP and to tell the truth about the CCP and “how the regime is destroying humanity by taking the dignity away from people. Because this is what the regime is fearing the most, that we will stand up every day and tell the truth about the horrible things that they’re doing to this world.”
Debra Holbrook, MSN, RN, FNE-A/P, SANE-A, DF-AFN, FAAN Academy of Forensic Nursing
Mrs. Holbrook is a critical care nurse, expert for the U.S. Departments of Justice and Defense on forensic nursing science, and founder of the Forensic Nurse Examiner Program. A Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, she is acting Director of Forensic Nursing at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
Mrs. Holbrook said, “The practice of forced organ harvesting is a form of human trafficking in its most egregious form, and we as forensic nurses have not only the responsibility, but also the obligation, to support all efforts to abolish these acts, no matter where they’re being performed.”
In her work creating partnerships to raise awareness of human trafficking among hospitals and local, state, and federal agencies, Mrs. Holbrook said, “We have added forced organ harvesting to the list of human trafficking crimes and created awareness in hospitals, including keeping a watchful eye out for patients who suddenly make plans to leave the waiting list for legally procured organ transplant to travel abroad. This potentially flags these patients as perpetuating this market of organ harvesting. We are looking for those health care providers who may be involved in arranging for these patients to leave the country for illegal harvesting, and we’ll fight to support their prosecution.”
She told listeners, “In numbers, nurses have the power, as well as the moral and ethical obligation, to hold each other accountable as health care providers, to educate our peers as well as our communities that forced organ harvesting must be abolished worldwide. As citizens of the world we are all potential victims of this crime. As we travel abroad to countries who have not made this practice illegal. No person has the authority to decide who is worthy of living and who is not worthy.”
The Academy of Forensic Nursing “is committed to legislation and practice worldwide that abolishes all forms of human trafficking, including forced organ harvesting, and builds partnerships to create a unified voice that advances human rights across the world.”
David Curtis, MA, MBBS, MD PhD, FRCPsych, Honorary Professor, UCL Genetics Institute, University College London and the Center for Psychiatry, Queen Mary University, London
Dr. Curtis currently researches genetic risk factors for mental illness. As the former Editor-in-Chief of the Annals of Human Genetics, he declined journal submissions from China over concerns that mass DNA collection is being used as part of China’s human rights abuses, including forced organ harvesting.
Dr. Curtis said that we know that forced organ harvesting, arbitrary arrests, detentions and disappearances, often without proper judicial processes, and mass genetic testing across minority and regional populations are all happening in China. Additionally, people are sometimes subjected to forced medical examinations and blood testing either in their own communities or while in detention.
Such blood testing can be used to find “a good donor for an organ transplant or a tissue transplant.” This means that “Chinese authorities are now capable of doing this if somebody needs a bone marrow transplant, but it might be a heart or a kidney or a lung needed. If somebody needs a transplant, then what can happen now (in China) is that the authorities can go through the DNA banks that they have. They can identify a suitable donor and that donor does not have to be a convicted prisoner. Now it does not have to be a prisoner. It does not have to be a detainee, because it can be someone just walking on the street, going to work, going to school, at home. There could be a knock on the door, and that person can be detained, taken from their home, taken from their workplace – never seen again because they are a good match for somebody who needs an organ transplant.” The entire population of China could be a “kind of a human farm of potential organ donors.”
Dr. Curtis said, “we could be doing something about it.” Since the Chinese regime cares about worldwide scientific recognition, by refusing to publish Chinese research papers, “we could seek to influence China’s behavior.” He said we should be telling the authors of research papers that we are aware that members of their profession in China are complicit in unethical practices and we should refuse to publish any research that presents ethical concerns.
Such a refusal can accomplish two things, according to Dr. Curtis. It would apply pressure to Chinese scientists, as publishing is crucial to their careers, and raise awareness among Chinese professionals of the “egregious human rights abuses” perpetrated by colleagues in their own country.